Magic and Mental Health

It seems both poetic and ironic that on World Mental Health Day (10th October), that my own mental health which has not been good this year (particularly of late), has turned a corner.

It’s true that I have been plagued by depression since I was 13 and have had some pretty dark times. I once described it as being a meal on a menu, once you’ve been down that dark road you’re never quite the same again and that meal option keeps popping up – an apparent ‘easy’ way out. Which of course is illusory, nothing in any aspect of life is ever ‘easy’.

But, demons aside and crippling self-doubt, it is amazing what a piece of good news can do for your self-esteem and yes, for your mental health.

It’s horrible to think that my mental health is so fragile and unstable that it can be shaken by bad news and improved by good news. I’ve always prided myself on being a very tough cookie, after all I’ve survived a lot of things that would simply have buried other people, so there is a hard tenacious streak somewhere in me.

But I suppose, when I’m feeling low, stressed and upset, that’s when mental health can be particularly fragile and susceptible to outward forces. I just have to accept that and try not to be so affected by others and the outside world. Being a hermit after all has some benefits! ūüėÄ

The trick to any mental health crisis, is not to beat yourself up. You can’t help how you’re feeling and you’re not in full control of how you behave either, I’m not talking about behaving like an asshole to others and using it as an excuse, there’s never an excuse for being a dick. But, when you’re in that dark hole, the world and everything in it is skewed, you are viewing people and situations in a very altered state. Paranoia, fear, isolation, loneliness and self-destructive thoughts run rampant and things that appear minor and trivial to others, become massively important to you, through a microscope lens.

The only advice I can offer to fellow suffers, is just that it WILL pass, if you let it. Everything in life is transitory.

Happiness never lasts, neither does love, but then neither does unhappiness either.

We are all flotsam on a tide of emotions that ebb and flow, appear and disappear. So if you are feeling miserable, take heart that you will not feel like that forever. And if you are happy or in love, make sure you treasure every moment because life is so fleeting.

So…for me, as writing has been causing me so much pain of late, I have temporarily hung up my pen. I will always be a writer and I WILL finish Book 2 of The Darkling Chronicles, Darkling Rise and the third and final book, even if no-one reads them and my other novel projects, including Ravenwing. But for now, novels and short stories (which I’m still not convinced I should do anymore of), are being temporarily shelved.

I’m concentrating on something I know I CAN do and do well – ART!

2017 has been a pretty monumental year art wise. I established the Artmaniac Challenge and FB group, where people share their art and try to do something arty and creative every day (a very hard ask), as well as videoing my first art tutorials on YouTube and doing my first art exhibition in the Art Room at BristolCon (the first exhibition since my art student days)…but I have also found myself being wooed by HarperCollins to become one of their illustrators! A dream come true! That resulted in my creating two awesome maps for their highly anticipated grimdark debut’s Anna Stephen’s Godblind and Anna Smith-Spark’s The Court of Broken Knives. The response I have had about these maps has been nothing short of phenomenal and they have made their way around the world being picked up by Random House and Orbit in the USA and by Dutch and German publishers etc etc.

Well, it’s happened again! Out of the blue, another major publisher contacted me on my illustration website and wants me to work for them! No less than Penguin Random House! ūüėÄ

I’m so chuffed! Yes I know my art skills are good and I’m a total perfectionist, but as we all know, having any measure of talent does not guarantee you a damn thing. How many multi-talented people do we all know who should be wildly successful but aren’t, while decidedly mediocre folks seem to rise to the top? 9/10 times, it’s simply who you know, your connections that get you where you want to go and not your acumen or talent. Tough but true.

But on this occasion, it genuinely seems to be my skills as a mapmaker that have brought me to Penguin’s attention. Woo and hoo! ūüėÄ

So yes, as I finish a current map commission, start work on a brilliant new project¬†being funded by Oxford University no less, and prepare for my scary art exhibition and being on two panels at BristolCon (including moderating one)…I will also begin a scary new commission for Penguin Random House! ūüėÄ

So…dare I whisper it, but I am starting to feel a lot better and my depression is (hopefully) on the wane even as I enter a very hectic and stressful period. But that’s the thing about mental health, it can affect any one of us and at any time. So please, if you know someone who is struggling, no matter what the cause, just listen and be there for them and remember to look after yourself too.

Peace, good mental health and love to you all. ‚̧ xxxx

‚̧

 

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The Dust Room

003

You never believe your life can change…until it does.

Kate Neilson’s life, not much of one by her own account, had bumped along in the same unremarkable way for the last three decades now. She had fond memories of being a kid, having adventures, being bold and exciting but all that changed when she was eight. A few weeks after her eighth birthday her mother had been killed in a car accident and her young life took an overnight¬†turn from the fantasies of being a kid into the harsh realities of life. She’d given up on being adventurous after that, she’d given up on being anything really and had perfected the art of drifting – no ambition, no goals, no hassle.

Now at the age of 38, her life had drastically changed again…

Kate sat wedged in¬†a leather chair, a blank expression on her face. She had reached brain overload about two hours before. Most of the morning had been consumed by endless papers, signing codicils, notarising¬†documents, legal jargon and the sort of beaurocratic¬†nonsense that she and Shaw hated.¬†Kate knew that¬†if his lawyer¬†hadn’t been his friend,¬†then¬†Shaw would¬†have ended up without an asset to his name. Shaw had a particular dislike, no, an outright disgust¬†regarding paperwork especially when it came to summarising a human being’s life.

“It’s paper, just f**king paper!” he’d scream, invariably louder than he had to.

Shaw¬†enjoyed making people stiffen in their chairs, is if he were about to assault them. Kate remembered an old friend of his, describing him as a ‘human tsunami’. That was it exactly. It was the most accurate description of him and uncannily prophetic. Shaw really was a human tsunami, whether he intended to be or not. He left people mangled in his wake. To be honest, in all their interviews together, the endless taped conversations and battles of wit, not really a battle, Kate had never won a point. But in all their meetings, she had never really been able to assess¬†his motives. Frustratingly, right up until the end, he had remained as big a mystery as he ever had. Perhaps that was how he wanted it. He had¬†a way of orchestrating things by invisible means, nonetheless, one always suspected Shaw of being involved.

“Right. That’s it. All signed and sealed. The realtor will sort that sign out in the morning. That was a mistake, that should never have gone up.” Shaw’s lawyer towered above her.

“Thank you, Tom.”

Tom McCrury, a great bear of a man,¬†had been Addison Shaw’s lawyer for fifty-one years. He probably knew¬†him better than anyone, but he was keeping tight-lipped¬†about it. What an odd friendship it seemed. This softly spoken monolith of a man and Addison Shaw, loud mouthed, foul-mouthed¬†and with no patience for the pleasantries of life.¬†To Kate, Shaw¬†had always seemed a chewed up gristly character, gristly yes, as if there was no bone or muscle and certainly no fat, just gristle…gnarled on the inside.

“Well,”¬†McCrury¬†drew in a long breath. “Things happen for a reason, right?” He patted Kate on the back. “Place is all yours now, kiddo,¬†enjoy it!”

Tom was in a hurry to leave. He wrestled with the enormous cluster of keys for a moment then dropped then squarely in her hands. He strode out to his car got in and hesitated for a moment.

“Don’t forget, I’m your¬†lawyer now. Call me if you need anything, my¬†number’s on speed dial…lucky number seven!” he smiled, then slamming the door shut with a cursory wave, he was gone. By the rattle of his exhaust,¬†Kate¬†wondered¬†if¬†his old friend had been as generous with him. If anyone deserved to inherit, surely it had to be Tom McCrury not her?!

Kate stood on the steps for a while looking at the jumble of keys, so interconnected she’d never be able to separate¬†them. The place was vast. There had to be¬†a hundred rooms at least. Why on earth had Addison Shaw, reclusive heir to a fortune of¬†billions – no single person seemed to know the full extent of his assets, why…why had he left this to her?!

She couldn’t call it a house, a mansion, or even a palace, it was just an enormous pile of rooms and turrets and grandiose staircases¬†with nothing but the mice to waft up and down. What the hell was she going to do with it? It had to be worth… what was it Tom said?

“Oh, I don’t know, somewhere between fifteen and thirty million.¬†Shaw refused to ever let realtors in…you know Addison.”

No, no she didn’t that was the point. She had worked at a crummy local newspaper writing minor stories and organising the ad section. A job she hated and which routinely underappreciated and underpaid her, but the plain truth was, she was a coward and couldn’t risk leaving it. Then a year ago, out of the blue, her editor had called her into his office. She’d only spoken to the guy maybe twice in five years. Anyone watching him bluster around the offices would have thought he was some hot-shot newspaper kingpin, not the king of a small town rag with an embarrassingly low readership.

Anyway, he’d lowered himself to call her insignificance in for a ‘chat’.

“I got a call this morning,” he paused. He liked pausing for dramatic effect. It just¬†made he¬†seem even more like¬†the jumped up little weasel she thought he was. “A call…from Addison Shaw.”

She had no idea who he was, but she had no intention of letting him know that. One thing Kate was great at, was faking.

“Yes?”

“Addison Shaw? The multi-billionaire? He owns the Shoreside estate?”

“Yes.”

“Hmmm. Well…he wants a reporter and he has personally asked for you.”

Now she was shocked. Nobody personally asked for her, ever. The last time that happened it was over a speeding ticket.

“Me?”

“You know this guy?”

“No…no, not at all.”

Her boss eyed her suspiciously. “Really…well, he seems to know you. Wants you to go out there this afternoon.”

“What?”

“Take your camera. There are no recent pictures of this guy without those damn shades on.”

This afternoon?”

“Yeap.”

“But…but I’ve got the ads to finish.”

“Gary will have to do those. He wants you there at 2.”

“Did he say what it was about?”

“Jesus, Neilson! A story! I don’t think he’s looking for a girlfriend!”

Sarcastic little shit. That meant he’d asked and been told to f**k off. Good.

Kate left the office, for what ended up as the last time. That surreal afternoon she had meet with the mysterious Mr. Shaw and been offered a job as his biographer, a job which easily paid five times the amount she got at the Gazette. Her normal cautiousness had kicked in for about twenty seconds, until she been given a cheque for twenty thousand dollars as an advance. On her return journey home, she had stopped at the local deli, just to phone her editor and tell him to stick his job. Considering that Kate rarely swore, her exact words drew stares from the prissy woman behind the deli counter!

That was a year ago, almost to the day.

Kate¬†stood on the steps and looked up at the colossus of a building behind her. How was she going to live here? The papers she had¬†to sign that morning, stipulated she could not sale, rent or let the property nor could she run any business from it¬†for a period of no less than ten years. After this ten-year enforced habitation, she would have to apply to be released from the clauses and various legal entanglements and could then eventually sell up and reap the rewards…if she refused her grand prize then this impossibly grand house would be torn down with immediate effect. She simply couldn’t abide that, to rip apart something like this for no reason, was crazy!

Yes…it would be criminal…at least after ten years she could sell up, maybe give some money to charity or something or set up a foundation for kids, something.

“Ten years, eh?” she felt the weight of it already.

The money¬†Addison Shaw had left her, too mind-boggling¬†to contemplate, was neatly¬†ascribed¬†to various maintenance¬†areas, the roof, gardens and grounds, stonework, plaster work, upkeep of conservation work etc, then the rest into a ‘living account’, expenses,¬†that kind of thing.

Kate slumped down on the top step. This was all too much.¬†A week ago she still had a relatively normal life, well, sort of. She’d spend most of her days running errands for Mr. Shaw, interviewing him or doing research.¬†Kate really had no idea how to write a biography, but her lack of credentials didn’t seem to bother her new boss.

Despite the better income, she was still living in her one bedroomed apartment trying to work out if she could afford to move to¬†a bigger place. She had used up the advance pretty quickly, paying off debts, and though Shaw gave her the healthiest salary she could have¬†dreamt of, she had been sensible and had squirreled it away into savings and a pension plan. She was rather proud of herself for doing that. Most 38 year olds would have blown it on an expensive¬†house and car…but then again, most 38 year olds were married with kids.¬†Kate didn’t fit the usual mould.

Yes…a¬†week ago¬†Kate was busy with an assignment Shaw had given her and was running late as usual when Mrs Forrenti¬†had cornered her as she fumbled with her front door keys.

The old lady who lived next door to her and knew the movements of everyone in the block, was waving a crumpled envelope in her hand.

Kate smiled. “Good morning Mrs Forrenti. I’m in a bit of a rush this morning.”

“Did you see what she did with that dog?” The old woman was waving manically¬†at her octogenarian¬†nemesis across the balcony.

“Uh huh…I’m sure that’s right…”

“What? Are you listening to me dear?”

Kate stared at her. Why couldn’t she politely tell her to¬†sod¬†off and leave her alone? What did she think? That just because she was single¬†she’d want to be best buddies with an eighty-three¬†year old pain in the ass, who stank of garlic and lavender to hide the stench of smoke and rotten teeth? Ughh! Even now, Kate couldn’t pass a perfume counter if it had any lavender scents without wanting to throw up.

“I’m sorry Mrs Forrenti, I really can’t talk…I’m late I’ve got to go…”

“Oh my dear, you’re always late aren’t you?” she smiled. Kate got another waft of smoke-laden garlic.

“I’ll speak to you later, okay?” She turned and rushed away.

“Wait! Wait!”¬†the old woman¬†grabbed her arm. Why couldn’t she just leave her alone? “This is yours. That damn post boy keeps giving me your mail!” She gave her the brown envelope.

Kate stuffed it into her bag and quickly left. Shaw had asked her, on their last round of interviews to do some research for him and the woman at¬†the records office could only see her at 9 sharp. Kate reached there with a minute to spare. She¬†spent the rest of the day scrolling through dated microfilm and newspaper articles. It wasn’t until three,¬†when she had left the records office to grab a sandwich,¬†that she¬†had remembered the envelope. It was a note in Addison Shaw’s scrawling hand. It said simply.

I am yours.

With it was a business card from Tom McCrury. On the back Tom had written – Call me today, urgent!

So she did.

That was how Kate had found out that her boss of the last year, the mysterious, reclusive billionaire, Addison Michael Shaw, had died.

At 11:30 the previous night, he had driven his Bugatti Veyron into the sea and strapped himself in the seat.

That was eight days ago.

The funeral¬†was¬†yesterday. Today, Kate Neilson was a billionairess…

Sophie E Tallis © 2013